On Winnipeg Free Press’ Pay-Per-Article Paywall

Last week, the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote an article making a (rather poor) case for their upcoming “innovative” paywall experience. Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Labs even picked it up and wrote a great article breaking down the nitty gritty. Simply put the Winnipeg Free Press plans to charge every single reader $0.27/article (billed monthly). Nobody in North America is doing this and nobody in the world has tried anything quite like this, so in that regard, it truly is an innovative idea.

However, there is a fine line between an innovative and a bad idea.

As far as I can tell based on the information they’ve released, Freep’s plan falls on the bad side of that line. Whatever committee makes these decisions at The Free Press seem to be misunderstanding some fairly basic principles about how the web works.

User Experience

For starters, any sort of road block that requires a user to create an account before getting to content is a significant barrier to entry. As usability pioneers Neilsen Norman Group put it “Login walls do not belong in the initial experience.” If a user clicks through to a news article from social media and is presented with a login wall, that user will just leave, period. I have a hard time believing that the Free Press’ research would show otherwise. The news market in Winnipeg has a lot of viable free/ad-supported content. Three daily newspapers, a vibrant sub-reddit and blogging scene. If someone wants to find out about something on the internet, they are going to visit the first site that actually displays information without making them jump through hoops.

There is a reason that successful paywalls like the NYT’s show users X number of free articles before ever asking them to sign up or pay. It’s not because these papers don’t need to maximize their online revenues. Precisely the opposite, they understand that presenting a paywall to every; single; drive-by visitor is going to do more harm than good.

Micro Payments

$0.27/article is hardly a “micro” payment.

$0.27/article is outrageous, maybe even just plain greedy!

Anybody who’s dealt with online advertising can come to this conclusion fairly quickly. The revenue earned by a individual webpage (ie. the cost to advertise) is calculated in CPM (cost per thousand views), $0.27/article works out to $270CPM. The going rate for the an ad on a highly popular website with a good audience in a desired demographic $70 – $100CPM, possibly upwards of $150 – $200CPM for a large takeover type ad. When The North Face advertises on wired.com, they’re looking at advertising budgets in that ballpark. On the other hand, an ad on Facebook or Google AdSense will cost an advertiser $0.50 – $5.00.

If I had to guess, the rates for advertising on winnipegfreepress.com are likely in the $50CPM range. So from that perspective the Winnipeg Free Press is attempting to charge their readers 2-5x as much as they charge their advertisers!

When compared to other media/entertainment the Free Press’ pricing model doesn’t make a lot of sense either. In the article, the editor writes “If you are a Winnipeg Jets fan, then you can assemble a month’s worth of game stories and Gary Lawless analysis that will cost you as little as $8.00.”

One month’s worth of hockey analysis costs as just shy of a Netflix or Rdio subscription. The pricing is totally out of whack.

Ad-Support. You’re the Product.

When a business is based on an ad-supported model, the reader is not the customer. The readership is the product, the advertisers are the customers. When you read an ad-supported website, you may not be handing over any money, but not getting the content for free either. Every time you load a page you are handing over valuable demographic information. I think most people understand this by now, but it’s worth reiterating.

Normally, when an industry experiences increased production costs, they pass those costs on to the customer. When the price of fuel goes up, airlines increase the costs of fares, grocery stores increase the cost of produce.

If a business is losing revenue, will try to present their customers with new and innovative products. Charging readers for access is doing nothing to create a more innovative product for the Free Press’ real customers, the advertisers. If anything, it’ll turn potential readers aways, decreasing the Free Press’ ad inventory.


Obviously I realize that newspapers and magazines have always cost money for as long as they’ve existed. But I had always thought that those costs were covering the cost of printing and distribution. In the past, newspaper ads paid the larger fixes costs of producing news, running a large company and lining the pockets of their investors. At least until Craig’s List came along and killed classifieds.
I understand that quality news-gathering costs money. If the Winnipeg Free Press’ cost are anywhere near as high as the exorbitant per-article rates they are rolling out, then they really are in trouble. And that’s too bad.
I wish them luck.

Apple iPhone 5S & 5C Canadian vs US Prices

In a followup to yesterday’s post about the eLitePhone 5S, here’s a chart comparing the US iPhone prices to the Canadian prices. Unlocked of course, carrier contract deals have not been announced yet.

Canadian US Difference
iPhone 5C 16GB $599 $549 (CA$567) $32
iPhone 5C 32GB $719 $649 (CA$670) $49
iPhone 5S 16GB $719 $649 (CA$670) $49
iPhone 5S 32GB $819 $749 (CA$773) $46
iPhone 5S 64GB $919 $849 (CA$876) $43

Edit: added conversion rates.

The best comment evar!

In reply to my August 2008 post “5 Reasons Tim Hortons Sucks” danno604 just wrote:

Food is Appaulling, bordering on Euthenasia for the Elderly.
Tim Hortons has horribly poor quality food – loaded with hydrogenated oils, white flour and sugar. The sandwiches and soup are so laden with sodium my tongue is sore.

I’m mystified why this place is a magnet for old people. Is this some kind of end-of life instinct, like dolphins beaching themselves, to go to Tims?

The SimCity Debacle: A Case for EA

I was one of the nerd horde desperately following news of the new SimCity’s release. Eating up every glassbox demo video on youtube. Visiting the website daily to check the release date. When March 5th rolled around, I convinced my wife to let me install Windows on her MacBook Pro and sat there eagerly awaiting my download.

That was 10 days ago.

Today, to put it lightly, the game is not living up to expectations.

A short list of the reported issues with the game:

  • Server capacity issues leaving game unplayable.
  • Always-On “DRM” annoying gamers.
  • Broken AI, causing serious gameplay issues.
  • Broken simulation, in the form of incorrect population reports.
  • Map size too small.

And on and on and on. Take a look at the unofficial subreddit for more details if you’re so inclined.

Many redditors and gamers in general have called foul, accusing EA and Maxis of lying and deceiving customers in an attempt to boast sales. Frankly those claims are not unfounded. EA has a history of poor customer service, etc.

But what if EA simply under estimated the number of people interested in the game. What if EA has no clue who buys their games? This would explain the utter brokeness of the servers at launch.

It might explain why they decided to release such a buggy game. If they completely failed to understand how many people would buy the game, they may have thought it would take much longer for the bugs to surface. They might have assumed they had more time to address the bugs.

The always-online gameplay model allows EA to iterate. If AI is broken, they can fix it, release a patch and instantaneously fix everyone’s experience. Iteration is good.